About Jim Bamboulis
Jim Bamboulis has held several posts over the past 12 years, including National Sportscaster, Food Host and Writer, Talk Show Host, Olympic Researcher and Travel Film-maker.
Born and raised in Toronto, Jim learned early on that the combination of travel and food meant ultimate living. Combining his insatiable creative spirit and desire to document his travels, Jim took his unshakable travel bug and set off to explore. Add the fact that Jim also grew up in a Greek household and he learned that not only does Mom always make the best meals, but as importantly learned the importance of understanding and appreciating the countless beautiful cultures and the integral role food plays in every corner of the World.
In August 2009, Jim founded Travel Mammal, a site that brings together his travels and experiences (both good and terrifying) with the hope that others are inspired to share their own. We are all storytellers, especially when it comes to travel and food. He urges everyone to be inspired, explore and love the world and the people that share it with us. Or in other words, Live to Travel and travel to live!
Latest Posts by Jim Bamboulis
West Queen West is loaded with food, coffee and entertainment options. That’s why we had a local tells us the 5 best places to eat, drink and be happy are along this busy strip.
For those of you who have been to downtown Toronto know, it’s often loud, hectic and frantic and at times, pretentious…..but, always beautiful. City Hall (old and new), Nathan Philipps Square, Eaton Centre and of course Bay Street, the financial epicentre of Canada, are found along the downtown section of the 501 streetcar route. And the beauty of Toronto is that all of these notable landmarks are within walking distance. You get off the streetcar at Yonge and Queen and walk west. Take it in, eat, shop, photograph and eventually rest.
Looking west along Queen Street West at Yonge Street
That’s where this article comes in. The resting.
And despite the go-go-go city, there are spots that offer peace and quiet. Because if you’re like me, someone who REALLY likes to sit down once in a while, then you will love these 5 serene spots. They are worth exploring and sitting down in.
5. Trinity Square
This little park is a gem. Located on the west side of the Eaton Centre and behind old City Hall (map), Trinity offers a bit of a cottage feel, plenty of green space and a historical backdrop while you sit. The Church of the Holy Trinity dates back to 1847and it plays the role of a terminating vista, offering a clear view from Bay Street. At certain times of the year, at dusk, it offers some incredible light.
As for the green space itself, you can enjoy plenty of seating and shade. Under a tree or in a Muskoka chair for extra comfort.
4. Green Roof at City Hall
Cross Bay Street and you get to one of my favourite structures in Toronto. City Hall (map). It’s unlike any other city hall in the world. Unique, curvaceous, ahead of its time and warm. Well, as warm as cement can possibly be. The big knock over the years around City Hall was the fact that there was too much cement and not enough green space in Nathan Phillips Square (directly in front of City Hall).
So in late 2009, a green roof was eventually added. More than 10,000 people showed up and took advantage of it when it opened in May 2010 and since then, it’s consistently used by those who want to eat their lunch in peace, those who love to meditate and even those who love the view. Walk up the ramp and enjoy.
3. Courtyard in the Sheraton Centre Hotel
Across the street from City Hall, you find the Sheraton Centre Hotel (map). I don’t picture too many locals going into the Sheraton unless it’s necessary but next time you’re downtown, go inside and check the courtyard. It’s stunning no matter what the season. Here’s the winter look.
The hotel offers seating in the lobby with clear views of the courtyard and its two waterfalls. Convenient when it’s cold outside. But in the summer, you can go outside and view them up close. Grab a seat, read a book and enjoy the sounds of the waterfalls all while the busy city moves around you.
2. Grange Park
Further west and just north of that iconic corner of Queen and John, you find Grange Park (map). The reason I love the Grange is because it’s a beautiful, unpredictable space. Expect anything and everything here, including early morning Tai Chi from local residents. The space is also beautifully surrounded by both modern architectural beauty as well as history.
Near the south side entrance, we have St. George the Martyr Anglican Church which which opened its doors in 1845.
On the northeast side, we have the main building of OCAD University, Canada’s largest and oldest educational institution for art and design.
The Grange (house) was built around 1817 for Lawyer and Merchant D’Arcy Boulton Jr. In 1911, his Wife Harriette insisted that the house become property of what is now the Art Gallery of Ontario (blue building with winding staircase).
Looking south from The Grange.
1. Osgoode Hall
It’s a funny thing with Osgoode Hall (map). Despite the grounds being so close to busy traffic on Queen Street West, somehow it feels like a world away. The beautiful Greek-inspired architecture as well as the greenery inside the gates makes the small space popular with both wedding photographers as well as the lunch time crowd. It’s graceful, intimate and tranquil.
There you have it. It is in fact possible to get some rest and relaxation in the middle of a busy and frenetic downtown Toronto. If you have a better green space that you want to suggest or if we missed one, please let us know.
Otherwise, pick your park, have a seat and relax.
This historic stretch, aka Old Queen Street East, was supposed to blow up years ago. Many were hoping that both foot traffic and businesses would pick up considering how close this neighbourhood is to Yonge Street. But unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. As you’ll find out below, this stretch of the 501 has some years to go before more eager shoppers flock to it.
Feel of the Area
I’m not going to lie. Between Victoria and Sherbourne Streets, Queen East is pretty desolate. More desolate once you go east of Church Street. If you’re looking for food and bar options, there are a few options but not many. Queen East is for the more adventurous soul, those who love exploring often overlooked parts, enjoy off the beaten path parts. This part of the 501 is charming in that Old Toronto style. From the Metropolitan Church to McTamney’s and Ash Farrelly’s George Street Diner, Historic Queen East is definitely a unique section of downtown Toronto. What is lacks in finesse, it makes up for with eccentricity.
Why Visit This Area
The largest Church in downtown Toronto, The Met is a stunning building that dates back to the 1870s. Although most of the original building burnt down in 1928, the newer version was built on the old foundations. The Gothic church reopened in 1929 and in 1930, a new organ was installed. Updated and restored over the years, it now has more than 8,200 pipes with sizes ranging from a large as 32 feet and as small as a pencil. To go along with the massive organ, it also has 54 bells.
St. Michael’s Cathedral
Located just north of Queen Street, St. Michael’s is one of my favourite churches in Toronto. Built in the Gothic revival style and dedicated in 1848, this cathedral is home to the largest English-speaking Catholic diocese in Canada. Iconic and significant, it was built to accommodate and serve the growing RC population of Toronto, especially during the immense influx of immigrants from Ireland fleeing the Irish famine in the 1840s and 50s.
Another iconic symbol of Toronto happens to be one of Canada’s oldest and most established family run businesses. McTamney’s has been in the buying and selling business for over 150 years. The shop has been at Church and Queen for nearly 100 years. Generations of people have come and gone through the doors including a few celebrities here and there.
George Street Diner
There’s B Espresso Bar next door to upscale George Restaurant which is next door tofunky Carbon Bar. All modern, slick and on Queen Street. But if you’re like me and want a bit of nostalgia with your meal then venture off Queen. Go south 1 block to Richmond Street at George Street (map). There, you’ll find one of the most authentic diners in Toronto’s east end, an Owner with a great story and a simple philosophy.
In my opinion, it all starts from the top. If the Boss is good, the staff will be good, the food will be quality and in turn the customers you attract will be good. Bad ownership means bad everything. When it comes to the George Street Diner, Owner Ash Farrelly brings positive energy from the first hello to the last goodbye. Walk in here and you’re treated like family.
Ash is a lovely lady who came to Canada from Ireland. Like many immigrants, she came with a dream and only a few dollars in her pocket. After much hard work and a necessary bank loan, Ash took charge of the Diner and put some soul into it. Her inviting personality and warm sense of humour creates an energy that is like no other. Here, it’s about meeting people, talking to people, face-to-face interaction. Like the good old days. You won’t find a TV or WiFi. Here, it’s all about reigniting the lost art of conversation.
There you have it, Historic Queen East. Did we miss something about this neighbourhood that you feel we should have included? Let us know.
Let’s face it, locals love going to the Toronto Islands every summer, and we all know the routine. We hit the lines, hope we get there early enough so the waiting isn’t too long, pay for the ticket, wait for the ferry in what feels like a big enclosed cement cage (although that’s looking to change for the better), and finally when the ferry is ready, feel the pushing of hundreds of people as you board.
Here’s a tip: Buy your tickets in advance and avoid the first big line. Despite all the trouble, many of us make the summer pilgrimage because in the end it’s actually worth it. The Islands are an oasis, an escape from the norm. They’re beautiful and offer space to cycle, blade, lay down a blanket, have a picnic or even get naked on the beach.
But if you’re like me and looking for a different way to see the amazing Toronto skyline from the water, the solution is a specialized cruise line. Of course, there are several cruise companies to choose from including Jubilee Queen, Great Lakes Schooner, Empress and Nautical Adventure featuring the Empire Sandy.
But after years of walking by the ticket booth, I finally decided to do a Mariposa Cruise.This company offers different types of cruise experiences, from brunch and cocktail cruises to wedding and student cruises. Day and night, these guys are always on the move and helping you celebrate your occasion. Their menu lists alone give you a clue about attention to detail and the understanding that a really great time starts and ends with the food.
I wasn’t celebrating anything special, except warmer, summer weather, because you have to soak it all in while you can. This summer, I wanted a friendlier, more personable experience on the water. No rushing, no pushing. To enjoy the Islands and see the city without the big lines, big time commitment and hassle. And I wanted to do this without getting off the boat.
Cue the 45-minute Mariposa boat cruise. Smooth, quick, easy, narrated. With similar amazing views of both the city and the beautiful private boats that line the Island shores.
The Oriole is one of 6 in the Mariposa Fleet
If you have a limited amount of time, want to get out on the water to see the city and the surrounding islands or just experience the bay in a different way, then this is an ideal idea. It’s convenient, smooth sailing and takes only 45 minutes.
Are you hungry for a NEW weekend getaway from Toronto this summer? Here are 5 road trip adventures around Southern Ontario that you should take while the weather is hot!
Toronto has plenty of neighbourhoods that offer plenty of things to do, places to eat and drink and explore. One of them is The Junction and in my opinion, this area in the west end doesn’t get the attention is deserves.
Not yet, anyway.
Ask the average Torontonian where The Junction is and they may look at you weird. But for those who know about it (outside of the locals…who love it), they hit up the joints often.
It’s got a pile of cafes, a few restaurants, some great bars and a seemingly endless amount of antique stores.
As opposed to giving you a Top Whatever reasons to visit The Junction list, I thought to illustrate the area with photos. My perspective of a very unique, historical, quaint and continuously evolving area of Toronto.
Here’s where The Junction is. Visit, enjoy and tell us what you think of the neighbourhood. Happy travels!
World wonders. Niagara Falls is one, yet to a person from Toronto, Niagara Falls is like the Grand Canyon is to someone living in Flagstaff. When you grow up so close to one of the worlds most beautiful natural wonders, you see it often but seeing it so many times makes you take it for granted.
It’s a shame because much like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls really never gets old. And for me, they’re more special as I have gotten older. I appreciate them more, love them more, stand there and look at them longer…even the American Falls.
I took a trip down to Niagara recently typically in late December, this part of the world is supposed to be snow covered and freezing ass cold. The Falls, icy, sparkly, pristine winter beauties. But these days, the temps are in the 50’s (10-15 degrees Celsius), there’s no snow on the ground and the Falls are flowing freely.
I got to Niagara at sunset, my favourite time of the day to see them and stayed into the evening. Enjoy!
You know it’s the holidays when people start taking pictures of their baking and posting them online. And for some reason, their Christmas trees too. Could never figure that one out, but that’s another story.
Can’t bake? Don’t want to? Here’s a list of Greek bakeries in Toronto that I think are worth your time, money and all the parking headaches.
The upside to this place is that you get pretty much everything you need under one roof. Groceries, pastries, the selection here is solid with plenty of fresh to choose from. And they provide what you need for children’s parties, wedding cakes, special occasion stuff, name it.
The downside is that because it’s so busy you often get treated like a number, customer service is iffy. On one occasion, ignored completely after raising a concern about a pastry sold. Here’s the thing. This place used to be cool. Like a band that plays small clubs and bars, lives and thrives for the music it writes and sings, gets paid in alcohol and comes back to play whenever they get invited.
Ya, that band. The band that’s all about the music.
But when that band gets ‘discovered’, plays sold out shows to self-entitled mainstreamers and forgets a bit about the quality of their music, they become all about the money. That’s Serano to me.
A one-time small guy who made really great stuff, turned into a big guy on the block who sells more things but compromised a bit on customer service and a bit on quality. Don’t get me wrong, the pastries are good and I understand that when business is good, you grow. But with growth comes greater responsibility. I mentioned a legit concern…buddy’s tooth got chipped and dislodged after biting down on what should have been a soft pastry. Manager wouldn’t hear of it. Bite careful my friends.
Where is it?
830 Pape Avenue, few blocks north of Danforth Ave.
Subway: Pape Station
Want attitude with that pastry? Hit up Athena. I don’t care much for the attitude, but because I understand the attitude, it doesn’t concern me. It’s old school. It’s the can’t-be-bothered-but-we-really-love-having-your-business attitude. The ‘why-aren’t-you-having-babies-yet-don’t-you-know-you’re-old’ attitude here. It’s funny if you get it. If you don’t, then you’ll be offended.
I like this place because it’s smaller, and it’s more intimate. There are plates and vases depicting mythical Greece scattered throughout the display window for sale, Greek and Mediterranean products to buy inside as well as several different types of pastry. It’s all good. You can get on a 1st-name basis with the Owners here and have a bit of conversation to go along with the whole buying experience. Fresh stuff, well priced and on the Greek strip.
Where is it?
598 Danforth Avenue, just west of Pape Avenue
Nearest subway station: Pape Station
I like Elite because they don’t buy into the whole Greek Town politics. They’re outside of it. Way outside of it. And because of that, you get better, more personable service. These guys can be bothered because they don’t seem to take things for granted. And because they’re in the east end, you don’t have to drive to Greek Town to get what you need. It’s a deli, it’s a bakery with pastries and cakes, it’s a grocery store and it’s a pleasant experience for a good price. Enough said.
Where is it?
1961 Kennedy Road in Scarborough
Nearest subway station: Ellesmere Station
I feel the same about this place as I do about Elite. It’s the type of place that you can at least have a conversation with the Owner and find out more about the quality of the product you’re buying. It’s not an in-and-out kind of thing. Family owned, the place has been in business for 40 years, making everything from pastries to homemade tzatziki and selling imported goods, various spreads, olives and feta cheese as well as ceramics.
Where is it?
811 St. Clair Avenue West
Nearest Subway station: St. Clair West station – get on the streetcar and go west a few blocks. It will be on the south side.
Deli. Bakery. Cafe. Another family owned business, these guys are pretty centrally located, keep things efficient and have plenty of everything you could need made fresh, competitively priced and ready to go. Yes, you’ll have some attitude here too but the fact that you can do some shopping, get a pastry and a coffee and enjoy them in their in-store cafe is a big bonus. In other words, why wait until you get home to eat, sit down now and indulge.
Where is it?
405 Donlands Avenue
Nearest Subway station: Donlands station (head north to O’Connor Drive)
Stany Greek Bakery
This place is the size of your living room, has the walking space of your pantry and looks like an organized basement. But you don’t need big size to create big quality.
It has solid mom and pop charm, doing something special, putting a little more heart into their product and delivering products and services the traditional, mild-mannered Greek way. Quality of pastry is amazing, putting in splashes of ingredients that make it that much more delectable all while providing cute, hospitable and sincere service at great prices. Overall, a great experience.
Where is it?
1015 Pape Avenue
Nearest Subway station: Pape station
Wondering what to get when you’re at any of these bakeries? That’s part of the fun. There are so many options and so many tastes, it’s really up to you and what you feel like eating. Just be aware that many Greek pastries have nuts in them so always ask before you consume.
Did I miss one? Got better suggestions? Hit me up and tell me what you think. Don’t be shy. Share!